Among several compelling reasons why David Moyes is emerging as a front-rank manager is that he is a terrible loser. Defeat is not an imposition, not even a tragedy, it is an affront to all that is right.
After Arsenal's ugly but hugely significant, and ultimately comfortable, victory, Moyes came close to rivalling another Scottish football man who laid claim to half of Liverpool. After shipping five goals against Ajax on a foggy night in Amsterdam, Bill Shankly sniffed: "They were the most defensive team we've ever played."
Moyes' assertion was less piquant but just as profound in its denial of a passing reality. "I thought we were the better team. We passed the ball better than Arsenal and they scored their goals from humps up the field."
In some ways the Everton manager's claim was accurate. But was it true? Up to a point. Where it fell down was that Arsenal overcame an excellent first-half performance from Everton and produced that which will always be required of putative champions. They found a way to win a psychologically massive game, scored their final, clinical goal through Tomas Rosicky after a mesmerising bout of passing between Emmanuel Adebayor and Abou Diaby, and who cared if much of the leapfrogging of Manchester United at the top of the league was somewhat below their normal standards of elegance?
Certainly not that other rather bad loser, Arsne Wenger.
He said: "At half-time I said we needed to play more and that we were too much in a very direct game which didn't suit us. We didn't move enough around the ball. We lost control of the ball too many times and overall Everton were on top. Sometimes you win with a short ball, sometimes a long one. I'm not surprised by our performance because for a long time I've said this team is hungry. You see that when you work with them every day. You see it in how they focus before every game and how they speak together.
"There is a real hunger in this team and that came out again today."
Hunger, of course, has many bedfellows and one of them is a ruthless, nasty streak. That quality emerged in Nicklas Bendtner's grisly tackle on Andrew Johnson, which inevitably brought a second yellow card, and if Cesc Fabregas has had a mostly luminous season, his exaggerated response to the effects of an arm thrown out by his compatriot Mikel Arteta was somewhat less than heroic.
Arteta was perhaps a little ingenuous in his indignation after being given his marching orders in the climate of today's football you are always in the hands of your opponent's competitive honesty when you commit such a foul, and the Everton player admitted as much when he said: "Fabregas tried to gain an advantage for his team, which is normal, as I try to do as well, but sometimes you're disappointed not because of a sending-off but because you lost a game you should have won."
That sense of a miscarriage of justice was so strong that Fabregas's theatricals were bound to leave a heavy residue of bitterness where before there could only have been regret that the inventive instincts of Arteta, the lurking menace of Ayegbeni Yakubu and a performance from Joleon Lescott at left-back that must surely put Ashley Cole on full alert when he considers his international future, in the end added up to nothing more than confirmation of Everton's current status. It is of a team displaying some fine instincts and good foundations, but what we saw on a vile Merseyside night was the evidence that they still have some way to go before truly challenging the elite.
Arsenal may have been the unlikely beneficiaries of the long ball and some good luck when the brilliant finishing of Eduardo appeared to been aided by a handball when he scored his second but Wenger could not conceal his exhilaration at the fact that his young team had responded so vigorously to the challenge of exploiting United's pratfall at Upton Park.
Apart from Eduardo's killer touch and first Premier League goals nothing really worked at anything like optimum levels. Alexander Hleb was as near to anonymous as he is ever likely to be while still in possession of superb gifts of timing and control, and while Fabregas brought a sharper edge to his game in the second half, his influence was mostly spasmodic. Kolo Tour was at times hard to recognise as he battled to keep pace with Everton's brisk rhythm, and the menace of Yakubu and the goalscorer, Tim Cahill.
Yet there was always a snarling, obdurate quality in Arsenal's game and when Adebayor came on to add his skill and vision and almost immediately panicked Everton into the concession of a third and decisive goal Wenger's upraised fist spoke of rather more than another celebration of his team's superior gifts.
It was the satisfaction of seeing that his team, which not so long ago had a tendency to run up a white flag at places like this one and Bolton, had the physical and mental resources to win in more or less any way that was required.
No, Arsenal were not pretty, at times not even passably coherent. But they got the job done in a way which said that not only were they the better, more accomplished team, they might just also be champions.
Goals: Cahill (19)1-0; Eduardo (47) 1-1; Eduardo, (58) 1-2; Adebayor (78) 1-3; Rosicky (90) 1-4.
Everton (4-4-1-1) Howard; Hibbert (Johnson, 71), Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Arteta, Neville, Carsley, Pienaar; Cahill; Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), Valente, Vaughan, Anichebe.
Arsenal (4-4-2) Almunia; Sagna, Tour, Gallas, Clichy; Hleb (Diarra, 82), Flamini, Fabregas (Rosicky, 88), Diabi; Eduardo (Adebayor, 74), Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Senderos.
Sent off: Bendtner (74); Arteta (84).
Booked: Arsenal Clichy, Eduardo, Flamini, Fabregas.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Eduardo.
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